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Day of the Dead: Collector's Edition
DirectorGeorge A. Romero
Release Date(s)1985 (September 17, 2013)
Studio(s)Laurel Entertainment (Shout/Scream Factory)
For years, whenever I told someone that Day of the Dead was my favorite movie in George A. Romero’s Dead trilogy (for the sake of argument, let’s just ignore the Dead movies that came later), I’d get a look like I had just said that my favorite Star Wars movie was The Ewok Adventure. In saying that, I certainly wasn’t trying to deny the greatness of Night of the Living Dead or Dawn of the Dead, both classics in their own right. Day just always struck me as the logical conclusion to the series, the movie the other two had been building up to. If Night showed us the beginning of the zombie apocalypse and Dawn showed us the continuing struggle for survival, Day was a bleak depiction of the end of the world.
Like the other two films, Day largely takes place in a single confined setting, although this one’s even more claustrophobic. We’re in an underground bunker in Florida where a team of scientists is struggling to understand, cure or control the zombie epidemic. Despite some minor success, notably the domestication of a zombie named Bub (Howard Sherman), the dwindling military force assigned to the science team, led by the squirrely Captain Rhodes (Joe Pilato), is getting restless. Meanwhile, Sarah (Lori Cardille), the sole female member of the team, is suffering from stress-related nightmares. She harbors her own doubts about the validity of some of the research, her boyfriend is rapidly becoming a basket case, and the search for other survivors is beginning to seem like a wild goose chase.
After two movies depicting a ragtag group of hardy survivors banding together to stay alive, Day finally offers a glimpse of the “official” response to the zombie apocalypse. Not surprisingly, they aren’t handling the crisis any better than the rank and file. They’re completely isolated, literally cut off from the outside world by solid rock, and so tightly wound up that turning on each other seems inevitable. Romero offers up his grimmest assessment of human nature in this one. If we can’t even help each other when death is literally clawing at the door, maybe we deserve to die.
The most sympathetic character in the film is Bub, a truly remarkable performance by Sherman. It’d be easy to overplay Bub’s glimmers of intelligence, which are really just flickers of sense memory at best. Sherman manages to make us care about a zombie, probably even more than we sympathize with his slightly crazed trainer (Richard Liberty, also excellent). The interplay between these two characters is fascinating, funny and ultimately even moving.
Even if you don’t care about any of this stuff and find the movie relentlessly talky and boring (many do), there’s still one very good reason to love Day of the Dead. These are the best special makeup effects Tom Savini ever created. Period. If blood and guts make you queasy, this is not the movie for you. Every effect here is bloody, realistic and frankly ingenious. There has never been anyone better than Savini at gore and Day catches him at the top of his game.
Anchor Bay’s 2007 Blu-ray release of Day of the Dead seemed pretty good to me, so I wasn’t entirely sure what else Scream Factory could bring to the table. The biggest reason to upgrade is the new transfer, a more cinematic experience than the previous, overly-processed look of the last disc. The colors are rich and there’s a fine level of film grain throughout. The only audio option is a DTS-HD mono track that thankfully offers the unedited soundtrack, not the oddly censored version that plagued previous DVDs and the 5.1 mixes on Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray. Returning extras include both audio commentaries, one featuring Romero, Savini, actress Lori Cardille and production designer Cletus Anderson, the other with filmmaker Roger Avary. Also back: Savini’s videotaped behind-the-scenes footage, a promotional video for Pennsylvania’s Wampum Mine (the film’s key location), trailers, TV spots and still galleries.
New to this release is the extensive, almost 90-minute documentary The World’s End. It’s a thorough examination of the making of Day of the Dead, featuring new interviews with nearly every key surviving cast and crew member. There’s also a new 7-minute tour of the Wampum Mine today, hosted by Ed Demko, called Underground. It’s a nice companion piece to the promo video. Unfortunately, a couple of missing extras will make fans want to hang on to that Anchor Bay disc. The shorter retrospective The Many Days of Day of the Dead is gone, kind of understandable given the much more in-depth new doc. But you’ll definitely want to hang on to Anchor Bay’s release for the audio interview with the late Richard Liberty. His voice isn’t represented on Scream Factory’s release and that’s a shame.
Time has been good to Day of the Dead and I’m pleased that I no longer seem to be a cult following of one who appreciates it. There’s no doubt that the movie deserves to be part of the Scream Factory line-up and their Blu-ray is about 90% definitive. Slip Anchor Bay’s release into an envelope alongside this one and you’ve got yourself the ultimate edition you’ve always wanted.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke
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